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Unrealistic Expectations and Marriage

As far as husbands go, I am one of the lucky ones. I know my other half loves me. I know this because of all the many ways he shows me, one of which is, in fact, saying it out loud.

So I have nothing to complain about, which he has been known to remind me right in the middle of my complaining about something he did wrong. Like putting an entire bag of chips on the table, or explaining something to me in a way that sounds like he thinks I'm stupid (something Rebecca Solnit ingeniously describes as "mansplaining," in her book "Men Explain Things To Me") or not throwing a parade in the kitchen after I have cooked a meal.

Yes, I am that needy.

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You could also argue, as the very popular New York City-based pastor Tim Keller does in his bestselling book, which he wrote with his takes-no-guff-wife Kathy of 38 years, that I am simply the victim of something most couples fall prey to nowadays … wait for it…unrealistic expectations. In Keller's book, he writes, "Modern people make the painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it under the weight of their almost cosmically impossible expectations."

I am not a Christian, but "cosmically impossible expectations" of my husband some days sounds pretty spot on. OK, I get it. Expecting too much from our mates can pose a serious threat to marriage. But exactly how do you define too much?

In thinking about this question, I thought back on dating in my 20s— how it was very in vogue at the time to make a list of what you were looking for in your man. Like applying "The Secret" to your search for a mate. The thinking was that, if you get specific about what you want in a mate, you will manifest this person. So you'd sit down with a pen and paper. Sometimes girlfriends would share these lists, which would inevitably be some be version of this:

1. Funny

2.. Really successful at his job

3. Always makes me a priority

4. Kind

5. Cutthroat in business

6. Loves his mother

7. Wears nice shoes

8. Is sensitive and a good listener

9. Thick lips

10. Loves to cook

11. More ambitious than Hillary Clinton

12. Never lies to me

To have a happy life and a happy marriage, you have to replace whatever the marriage equivalent is of that insane list of expectations from your dating years with a simple list of all the qualities you appreciate about your darling husbands or wives.

13. Loves to sketch flowers in his free time

14. Loves to camp

15. Really loves five-star hotels

16. Loves children

17. Loves my cat

Here's what we all learned from these lists, the burning of which allowed us to actually find a real mate with whom we could procreate and start a family. We learned that the breadth of these expectations were ridiculous. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, it eventually became clear that the person "visualized" above does not exist in human form. Or, if by chance you find him, he is not interested in the female anatomy.

And yet. Even more than 13 years in to my marriage, sometimes I and my friends are still guilty of crazy, conflicting expectations of our flesh-and-blood, straight male husbands. Some examples: "I love how we can shut the world out and talk to each other at the end of a long day. But then some nights I feel like, for God's sake, can we please just stop with all the intense talks? Can we just be stupid shallow fools, for ONCE?"

Or, "I love how responsible you are with money, honey, and always thinking about IRAs and other acronyms for financial planning that I didn't even know existed. But do we have talk through every expenditure? Can't we just go nuts and buys some crazy shit sometimes? But not on credit, of course, because I hate credit card debt."

Or, "I love that you're so committed to working out and you're dealing with your high cholesterol and keeping yourself healthy but, wow, it certainly takes up a lot your time!"

Sometimes my thinking about my husband reminds me of all the men I dated before him who always wanted a skinny, slightly wacky, creative chick and then couldn't believe I lived on lettuce (days of yore, my friends) and tended to be kind of morose when I wasn't in front of people. "I thought you were funny," they'd lament. This is the other side of funny, I'd think, not so pretty. Tod was the first man I found who didn't seem fazed by my "artistic," shall we say, temperament. He didn't expect the slightly manic gal he met in a comedy club to also be good at a corporate dinner party, have a perfectly organized desk or be left alone with a bag of granola.

It's been said a zillion times, mostly as part of the working vs. non-working mommy wars in the motherhood space, and it bears repeating: you don't get it all. Here's the deal in the relationships space: it's true about a spouse, too.

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That's why it's very important to discipline yourself to take stock of what you do get. To have a happy life and a happy marriage, you have to replace whatever the marriage equivalent is of that insane list of expectations from your dating years with a simple list of all the qualities you appreciate about your darling husbands or wives.

And then, instead of getting upset about it, pick up the phone and call a girlfriend when you need applause for your vegan lasagna.

And by "you," of course I mean me.

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Image via Twenty20/Thompsonlxs

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